Sunday, 17 December 2017

Roundshaw Downs parkrun

Historically, the area now known as Roundshaw Downs was used as farmland, but at the beginning of the 20th century it became home to Beddington Aerodrome, which was established in order to protect London during the First World War. The site and surrounding area, including the adjacent Waddon Aerodrome, became home to National Aircraft Factory No.1 which mass produced aircraft for the war effort.

Once the First World War was over, the site was handed over for use in civil aviation before being taken back under RAF control during the Second World War. The aerodrome eventually operated under the name of Croydon Airport. Until the end of the 1950's this was London's main airport (and for a time, Britains only major international airport). It is famous for developing the Air Traffic Control Tower, and the distress phrase 'Mayday, Mayday, Mayday' was conceived here. The lack of expansion opportunities at the airfield eventually lead to Croydon Airport closing down.

roundshaw downs

Over the next 30 years, nature took over and thrived. Then in 1993 the area was formally renamed Roundshaw Downs and declared a Local Nature Reserve the following year. Today, Roundshaw Downs covers 52 hectares area of land located mostly within the London Borough of Sutton, but a strip of the grassland (which is part of the parkrun course) at its eastern border is technically located within the London Borough of Croydon.

On 18 July 2009, almost 50 years to the day after the airport closed, the downs became home to Roundshaw Downs parkrun - it is the 15th oldest UK parkrun still in operation. Attendance figures had hovered around the 100 mark for many years, but 2017 saw a noticeable increase and you can now expect to find in excess 150 attendees on a regular basis.

the start and opening stretch / de havilland heron

This was my third visit to Roundshaw Downs parkrun, however it was the first time I had ever run here on a Saturday. My first two visits were as part of my New Year's Day doubles in 2012 (a Sunday) and 2013 (a Tuesday). After those two visits I didn't write full venue blogs, so coming back gave me the opportunity to give the venue a full blog7t write-up.

I drove to the venue on a beautiful, but very cold morning in December 2017 - in fact, around 150 parkruns had cancelled due to slippery conditions across the UK, but I was confident that the off-road nature of the course here would keep the risk of cancellation low. Free on-street parking can be found just a few metres away from the start-finish area on Imperial Way - named after Imperial Airways, which was the forerunner of British Airways.

around the course [photo of me: richard carter]

Other travel options are possible; if you take the train you will find that Purley Oaks and Sanderstead are the closest stations. Buses run along the main A23 and you can alight at Croydon Airport bus stop. There aren't any formal bicycle parking options on the downs themselves, although there are some bike racks on the opposite side of the A23 within the Purley Way Playing Fields car park. I don't think there are any toilet facilities available here, so you may need to plan an alternative into your pre-run prep.

In the vicinity of the downs you will find many large, modern superstores and warehouses. However if you take a closer look you may spot some of the original airport buildings - most notably on the main A23 Purley Way is the former terminal building, Airport House. In front of this is the unmissable sight of an aeroplane raised on struts - it is a de Havilland Heron, which is the type of plane that made the last passenger flight from the airport in 1959. Coincidentally it was almost certainly built at the de Havilland factory in Hatfield whose former land is now home to Ellenbrook Fields parkrun.

the wooded section

Anyway... the parkrun meeting point is just inside the border of the downs at the end of Imperial Way. The run takes place over two, identical, anti-clockwise laps, it is 100% off-road, mostly grassy, dirt paths which do become muddy in the winter. As it was so cold during this visit, the ground was frozen and I would have gotten away with wearing road shoes, however at this time of year it is advisable to use a pair of trail shoes.

The main briefing and start of the run are just a few metres to the west of the meeting point, and from here the participants head off for a trot around the downs. It's worth keeping an eye out for the Sussex Cattle in one of the large enclosures - the cattle help to maintain the delicate balance of the chalk grassland. By eating the grass, they create space for rare wildflowers to grow and these attract a diverse variety of insects which in turn provide food for other species like the Wasp Spider. The area is also home to other forms of wildlife such as voles, kestrels and skylarks.

the view and top of the course

The general theme of the lap is the first 1.8km is spent ever-so-slowly edging your way uphill. At just over a kilometre in, it feels like the top has been reached and you are rewarded with a fantastic view looking towards the centre of Croydon and beyond. However, the course weaves around and through a small patch of woodland where the elevation continues to rise. Upon exiting the woodland, the grass underfoot was longer and it took a bit of extra effort to get through.

There is a berm running north-south through the downs and this is now crossed via an opening - it's a tight turn and narrow and I found it broke my rhythm. After this, at about three quarters of the way around the lap, you finally reach the highest point. Which means the last 700 metres or so is back downhill. It's not quite as simple as it sounds because the downhill stretch is quite bumpy underfoot, so it's not as straight-forward as just letting gravity do all the work. Also, if you look to your left you may spot some of the old airport tarmac.

heading back down at the end of the lap

With two laps complete it's a simple case of entering the finish funnel, collecting your finishing position token and having them both scanned by the barcode scanner who'll you'll most likely find back at the original meeting point just a few metres away. Once all the participants have completed the course, the team head off to the local Mcdonalds for the post-run social where everyone is welcome to join them.

The official results for event number 453 were processed and online a short while later and 126 people took part. A nice bonus for me was that I ran a new personal best for the course by over a minute. I'd also recorded the run using my Garmin and if you want to see the course in more detail please have a look at my Strava file, here - Roundshaw Downs parkrun 453.


Before leaving I headed around the course to take some photos and chatted to some marshals. I also popped over to the main road to have a look at the striking RAF memorial which is dedicated to all the people connected to Croydon and/or the aerodrome that lost their lives during the second world war. Later on that day, I converted the GPS data into a course fly-by video by using the Relive app on my phone. You can view the video for that on youtube, here - Roundshaw Downs parkrun course fly-by video.

Related blog7t pages:

The London parkrun venues

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Kent Fitness League 2017-18: Oxleas Wood

The third race of the 2017-18 season was run at Oxleas Wood, which is the wooded area you can see to the side of Shooters Hill. This race marked my third outing at this venue over the last four seasons. The first two races of the season had been so-so...

The season opener at Knole Park was ruined by a pain in my stomach. Then at the second race in Swanley I got caught in congestion early on and found myself quite far adrift of where I would have liked to be.

I came into the Oxleas Wood race with more of an aggressive mindset - the previous year I had started too slowly and got caught in congestion during the early part of the wooded section. I wanted to avoid that this time around, and so did the race organisers - Plumstead Runners. So this year the beginning of the course was lengthened in order to thin the runners out before entering the woods.

oxleas wood (oxleas meadows) [photos: 7t]

The race start time was set for 11am, however a couple of minutes beforehand it was announced that there would be a 10 minute delay. The weather was pretty cold (it always is here) and there had been an early morning frost, so to keep warm I started a second warm-up session of light jogging until we had our two-minute warning.

As I mentioned, the course had changed a little this year. So the beginning was a little different and involved a large loop around a line of trees and bushes adding a couple of hundred extra metres to the course. I'm not entirely sure if it helped further down the field but I can confirm that I entered the woods and didn't have to deal with any congestion. My start had been more aggressive than before, but to be honest, I was never going to go too crazy early on.

My race featured a bit of overtaking and a bit of being overtaken. I struggled on some of the inclines but I fared better on the flatter sections. I rolled my left ankle but I appear to have gotten away without doing any damage. I wore my spikes for this race because I found them really beneficial the year before. However, the ground was much dryer this time around and I reckon trail shoes would've done the job nicely.

oxleas wood [photos: eden summers]

After 38 minutes and 14 seconds, I crossed the finish line, weaved through the funnel and collected my finishing disc, which I was surprised to see was number 80. Bear in mind that I had finished in 146th and 135th in the first two races, so to be well within the top 100 was a bit of a shock. Not only that, but I had run a new course best despite it actually being a few hundred metres longer. To be fair, the course was the driest I have ever seen it, so was a lot faster than it usually is.

Official Results Page: KFL Oxleas Wood Results 2017
Overall position: 80 / 460
Gender position: 78 / 324
Official time: 38.14

My GPS Data: KFL Oxleas Wood 2017
Video: Relive course flyby video

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Kent Cross Country League

The Kent County Athletics Association's series of cross country races are known as the Kent Cross Country League, or KXCL. They take place during the winter and consist of four races for each age/gender category spread over five different venues. Unlike the Kent Fitness League (which is non-elite), these races are open to, and attract, the very best runners in the county.

Each category features a slightly different distance which ranges from 2.5 kilometres for the youngest through to approx 5km for the senior women and 10km for the senior mens race. The races are held at different time slots throughout the early afternoon, usually starting with the youngest and working through to the senior mens race. The latest full information for distances and times for each age group can be found on the official website.

The information here centres around the senior/vet mens race as this is the series/league that I am taking part in.

Stanhill Farm, Wilmington (Hosted by Dartford Harriers)

  • Course summary: 4 laps run on farmer's tracks around fields - The first lap is shorter than the rest.
  • GPS data: Stanhill Farm 2017
  • Video: Relive course fly-by video
  • Parking / toilets / refreshments: Onsite parking for £1 (some side roads within 1km as an alternative). About half-a-dozen portaloos. There was a truck selling chips and burgers.
  • Blogs: Stanhill Farm 2017

Somerhill School, Tonbridge (Hosted by Tonbridge AC)

  • Course summary: 2 laps around the picturesque grounds of Somerhill School - lap 1 is shorter than laps 2 and 3.
  • GPS data: Somerhill 2017
  • Video: Relive course fly-by video
  • Parking / toilets / refreshments: Onsite parking within the private grounds (no charge). About half-a-dozen portaloos. No refreshments available from what I saw.
  • Blogs: Somerhill 2017

Footscray Meadows, Bexley (Hosted by Cambridge Harriers AC)

  • Course summary: 3 laps around Foots Cray Meadows - Lap one is shorter than laps 2 and 3.
  • GPS data: Footscray Meadows 2017
  • Video: Relive course fly-by video
  • Parking / toilets / refreshments: Parking in a private business park car park about 1km walk from the start area. No refreshments available from what I saw. There were apparently some toilets (possibly portaloos) close to the race HQ, but I couldn't find them.
  • Blogs: Footscray Meadows 2017

Danson Park, Bexleyheath (Hosted by Bexley AC)

  • Course summary: No senior mens race at this venue - Not attended.
  • GPS data: none
  • Blogs: none

Sparrows Den, West Wickham, Bromley (Hosted by Blackheath and Bromley Harriers AC)

  • Course summary: INFORMATION TO FOLLOW
  • GPS data:
  • Video:
  • Parking / toilets / refreshments:
  • Blogs:

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Kent Cross Country League 2017-18: Foots Cray Meadows

Foots Cray Meadows is located on the banks of the river cray and consists of parkland and woodland. Formerly part of the grounds of Footscray Place, a country house built in 1754, it is now a Local Nature Reserve and a Site of Metropolitan Importance for Nature Conservation. The house itself was demolished in 1950 following a fire a year earlier.

This was the venue for the third race of the Kent Cross Country League of the 2017-18 season. This was the first race of the season so far where I was sure that cross-country spikes would be the best option and as the race progressed I was pleased to have chosen them.

The course here is generally quite flat, but there are a few long, gentle inclines to deal with. The 10k course is made up of three laps with the first being shorter than laps two and three. Underfoot was fairly soft as we had experienced a bit of rain in the lead up to the race.

As for my race, I started quite far back in the pack, but due to the quality of the field at this series of races, I didn't really lose any time in the early congestion. The race panned out pretty well and I found that I was generally picking my way through the field.

Although the paths are generally a decent width, there are some sections where the course goes down to a single track path with long grass meadows on either side, so overtaking can be difficult at times. Strangely, the most difficult part of the course was quite a flat section which seemed to have a head wind and longer, clumpy grass to negotiate.

I finished in a higher position than I had in the first two races so it was nice to feel like I was improving as the season progressed.


Kent Cross Country League 2017-18: Somerhill School

The Somerhill Schools are based at Somerhill House in Tonbridge, Kent. The house is a Grade I listed Jacobean Mansion, and was built between 1611-1613. It sits atop the highest point of the 150 acres of stunning parkland.


This venue was used for race 2 of the 2017-18 season. The weather had been fairly dry and underfoot was a mixture of grass, very dry dirt and some slightly softer sections - a lot of people wore spikes but I found trail shoes were fine.

The course used this season was, I think, slightly different to previous years and featured 3 laps. The first was slightly shorter than the second and third and made the total distance run up to 10km. The profile of the course can be described as hilly with a combination of long shallow inclines and some short, sharper ones.

the grounds / race shot (thanks to prem)

The course itself feels like quite a permanent fixture of the grounds and I have seen that Somerhill hosts quite a lot of different cross-country events. It's a really enjoyable (assuming punishing yourself in this way can be described as enjoyable) course to run.

My race was reasonable and I finished ten places higher than I had in the season opener. I was still way down the field as expected, but then again I'm only running about 20km per week in training so it's not too bad considering that.

another race shot (thanks again to prem) / a short sharp incline on the course


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